Erwin Olaf is an interdisciplinary artist working across the fields of photography, video and installation. After studying at the Utrecht School for Journalism, Olaf emerged onto the international art scene when his series ‘Chessmen’ won the Young European Photographer of the Year award in 1988. This was followed by an exhibition at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, with subsequent solo and group shows at major museums and galleries around the world, including Bilbao Art Centre, the Modern Art Gallery in Bologna, Santiago Museum of Contemporary Art, and Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Provocative and often unsettling, Olaf’s work is characterized by its scrutiny of societal frictions and the individuals affected. Chiefly through photography, but also video, sculpture and installation, his work is veiled in a stylized aesthetic that belies a tortured undercurrent. With sensitivity, humor, and Brechtian distance, Olaf draws us into his surreal, filmic narrative, while maintaining the distance of the critical observer. “It’s nice to lock people in a very formal world in which everything is nearly perfect – and then to break something. Then you have your drama” the artist says.
His most recent work sees the conclusion of the three-part project ‘Cities in Transition’ [working title] - a series of artworks looking at internationally renowned cities undergoing seismic change in the modern world. Rather than fabricating a controlled studio environment, this trilogy is the only time the artist has shot on location, retaining his characteristic cinematic associations to produce a body of work wrought with the genuine emotions and neuroses of these places and their inhabitants.